FEATURE: Al fresco dining

A trend for domestic outdoor living has given rise to a healthy and fast-growing market for outdoor dining at hospitality venues. Bill Lumley Reports.

After carrying on well into March this year, winter now seems finally to be turning into no more than a

memory, and long-awaited Spring is here. As the evenings draw out, so too comes the need to prepare for the approaching busy summer season. If your own property is not up for major renovation, due or overdue, and if it is not facing unscheduled repairs resulting from winter snow or flood damage, now may well provide the perfect time to consider monetising your outdoor space.

B&Bs across the UK are increasingly marketing their outdoor dining facilities, and there is a growing number of UK companies offering a wide range of outdoor furnishings from chairs and benches ans picnic tables portable gazebos. If you wish to extend the luxury inside your property to your outdoor space then you may consider investing in a premium gazebo or pavilion.

There is a wide and fast-growing variety of choice to be had for your outdoor dining facilities. If you want to put your toes in the water for outdoor dining at your venue and invest initially in the hundreds rather than thousands of pounds then you might be happiest going for a conventional table and bench, such as an eight-seater picnic table from Benchmark Picnic Tables. For less than £300 you can try out the traditional pub-style gar- den option to determine what other changes you may need to make to your business to accommodate profitable outdoor eating.

If however you decide to go the luxury route then there are options aplenty. Adrian Danson is chief operating officer at Crown Pavilions, an Oxfordshire-based firm offering high-end garden pavilions, luxury gazebos and outdoor rooms. He tells Luxury Bed & Breakfast: “We are finding that many hospitality businesses want to use their outdoor space a lot more than just during the high summer months. We are following that trend by providing a lot of our gazebos with heating in them, enabling innkeepers and bed & break- fast owners to get up to nine months rather than four or five months per year out of their outdoor space,” he says.

The gazebos that Crown Pavilions sells are designed to be used for private dining, he explains, so proprietors are finding them- selves able to extend their opportunities for attaining a speedy return on their investment.

Exposure to the elements should not be a concern for products such as those sold by Crown Pavilions, according to Danson, who explains that as high-end products they are all made with the finest quality and durable materials.

“Our products all come with a 30-year guarantee on their roof, and all the soft fabrics we use are marine-grade fabric, so they are incredibly hardy and completely weather-proof. They have all been tested on ocean-going yachts, so we know they can take extreme weather elements.”

Meanwhile the company’s pavilion and gazebo roofs are made from environmentally friendly cedar shingle roofs. This type of wood has been in use for this purpose for hundreds of years and requires no maintenance, he explains. “They just weather beautifully,” he says.

In the event of food or drink spilling on any surface, he maintains the materials used are all very easy to clean. “Food and drink just wipe off. The fabrics are water-repellant and very low maintenance.”

As a further measure of the brand’s flexibility, smokers can be accommodated in the buildings when the waterproof rolled up blinds are rolled providing sufficient ventilation for guests to smoke in the gazebo.

“The key thing is that they pay for them- selves really quickly,” he says. “Very rarely do you need planning permission as they are seen as temporary structures. We can install them within a day, so you can have the additional space very quickly, cost effectively and with no planning upheaval.”

Ivyliving is a sister company of Ivyline, a company that supplies the UK’s largest retailers with home accessories, indoor and outdoor pots. Ivyliving is all about gas firepits, and facilitates outdoor dining for luxury B&B owners in a variety of ways. Marketing executive Maija Sakalauskaite explains: “We offer three main options, all ideal for their purpose. The one for full scale dining is the Kenwood eight-seater, which offers the look and feel of a top-class hardwood outdoor table with a long burner made of top-grade stainless steel and containing the special tempered glass beads that look liquid in the dancing flames.

The flames are highly controllable from a dancing flicker to a toasting 39kW.

“Then we offer The Large, a very popular garden chair height model that facilitates casual dining and relaxing with drinks and snacks with its wide ledge and sociable 15Kw central fire. For those who want to socialise at bar stool height we have the Standing Table, which again has a ledge to hold drinks and snacks all around the central fire.”

She says there are a number of characteristics that make Ivy Living attractive to the small luxury hospitality market. “All our products are highly user friendly and blend well with their surroundings, but they are specifically geared to the commercial market.”

As with the approach taken by Crown Pavilions, Sakalauskaite says Ivy Living’s aim is to enable venue operators to add revenue by extending their al fresco seasons

by up to six weeks earlier in the Spring and six weeks later in the Autumn, in total up   to three months. She says: “At these times, and through the summer, they also extend the outdoor experience considerably later into the evening and into periods of poorer weather. If they are under some kind of awning or large parasols, the effect is even more enhanced. People just love being outside!”

She says that the relatively recent trend for al fresco living at home has led to a similar trend for outdoors dining at hospitality venues. “New roof terraces are being created, existing outdoor terraces and courtyards are being refurbished, and new ones are being created.”

And she cites a recent survey undertaken on behalf of Hotelympia last month, which found that an overwhelming 75.5% of diners preferred the option of eating outside. “Our customers’ experience is that this includes times of poor weather. They just want to gather round the fire pits and be out there,” she says.

Jan Dammis head of international sales  at hospitality furniture supplier GO IN says: “Outside is definitely ‘in’. Al fresco dining and outdoor restaurants have been booming right across Europe. Carefully designed terraces get people flocking in and are an excellent source of revenue. Choosing the correct outdoor furniture and creating an attractive outside space which fits your overall concept is the key to success.”

Outdoor spaces are more than just a ‘must have’ add-on, he stresses. “They should be designed to complement the visual style of the rest of the restaurant or bar. In order to maximise the potential of outdoor spaces and to attract different groups of guests, it’s often

helpful to divide terraces into zones. Groups of tables and chairs stand in the centre as a place for table service and dining. These can be combined with bar tables and stools for a quick coffee or snack. Then there are lounge areas where guests can enjoy a relaxing cocktail.”

Developments in technical outdoor fabrics have helped shape the design and quality of today’s trendsetting outdoor furniture. For example, the outdoor lounge furniture Tuxum really catches the eye. “The beautifully shaped sofa and chairs in a simple ‘Scandi style’ stand out thanks to their light look and mix of technical outdoor fabric, aluminium and wood effect. These are perfect for the cocktail areas of outside terraces,” says Dammis.

New chairs, including the Elias, exude a feeling of lightness and summertime. The retro-style chair has small proportions and comes in simple white, as well as popular brick red and olive green. It’s  available with a closed or perforated backrest. The frame is made of powder-coated steel; the comfortable seat shell is polypropylene.

Comfortable, stackable and lightweight, the Elias is a practical all-rounder, sure to be loved by guests and staff alike.

“If your outdoor furniture needs to be cleared away quickly at certain times or stored through the winter then folding or stacking chairs and tables offer a distinct advantage. They save space and they are quick and easy for staff to move around. GO IN offers a wide range of furniture that meets these requirements,” he says.

Uneven ground, a lack of shade or shelter, poor layout and inadequate access can all reduce guests’ enjoyment of your outdoor area – and that’s before the furniture is considered. Fortunately these problems are easily over- come with a bit of forward planning, he says.

“First, give some thought to choosing the right flooring. This is critical because it can not only help make the outdoor area look attractive, but it also allows furniture to be organised and accessed in the best possible way. A loose surface such as gravel offers a clean, easily maintained and generally well-drained area but can be unsuitable for pushchairs and wheelchairs. Grit requires more maintenance but offers better access.

Flagstones and paving need a small gradient to help drainage but, if well laid, give an attractive and lasting surface. Wooden decking can be an option but is not recommended for shady areas where slippery moss can form.

GO IN’S TOP TIPS FOR SUCCESSFUL OUTDOOR AREAS

Tip 1. First impressions are everything, so use your outdoor area as your business card – make it a good or even better representation of your style indoors.

Tip 2. Offer furniture with comfort, style and quality. Make cost savings by purchasing from the right supplier, rather than compromising these important standards.

Tip 3. Go for flexible arrangements so that changes can be made quickly and easily. For example, go for small tables, which can be arranged individually or used together for larger groups.

Tip 4. Make small but significant gestures towards additional comfort. For example, offer seat cushions and warm blankets for chillier evenings.

Tip 5. Make sure the furniture is robust, easy to maintain and well looked after to make sure it stays looking good.

Gary Vale, managing director of Eden Furniture, has advice for B&B operators on al fresco dining and getting ready for summer.

“There are plenty of options when it comes to choosing outdoor furniture,” he says. “You’ll need to consider the ‘look and feel’ you’re trying to achieve, how you want to manage your outdoor space and the price you want to pay.

“Often you’ll want your outdoor space to be a continuation of the design themes that your indoor areas convey. However, in some circumstances there’s an opportunity for your outdoor area to make an eye-catchingly bold statement so that you stand out from local competition and draw customers towards your offering. Bold contemporary designs and vibrant colours are an excellent way for your furniture to stand out, but there are new takes on classic styles that are well worth considering,” he says.

Classic styles continue to be very popular conveying a comforting sense of reliability and trust, he says. “The Parisian café look is always stylish, and these days stackable chairs and armchairs are available with robust aluminium frames and all-weather woven seats and backs. The vintage look has also been reinvented and given  a  make- over with a whole new range of colours.

The Salford stackable aluminium chair for example is available with an antique paint finish in white, grey, light blue, red, green or yellow. Minimalist ‘retro’ looks, such as the Nolita range, combine fine classic lines with a thoroughly modern colour range.”

Innovative new materials are constantly being introduced to improve the quality, design, maintenance and longevity of outdoor furniture. Vale says: “Depending on what you’re trying to offer your customers and your operational requirements you can choose furniture which is virtually maintenance free; is stackable or foldable; is light- weight or heavy; simple yet striking; classic, stylish and comfortable.

“Non-wood can be made to look like  real wood or can bring striking patterns and designs to tabletops. Metalwork can be powder-coated to provide a robust, weather- proof finish in a wide range of colours. Wood, in teak or redwood, is now available sourced solely from sustainable and environmentally green plantations which ensures the long- term viability of these sources,” he adds.

When deciding how to make the most of your outdoor space, you’ll need to consider some practical aspects of furniture design. You may be lucky enough to be able to keep furniture permanently set-up outside, but this does mean the furniture has to be able to cope in all weathers and stay looking good. “If it doesn’t need to be constantly moved and rearranged then it can be a  more robust design and build; many solid metal and wood designs meet this requirement. When furniture needs to be put away each night or when it’s not required, then you’ll want lighter-weight designs and foldable or stackable options; these features also minimise the space required for winter storage,” he suggests.

“If you have to leave your furniture outside during the winter months, we recommend that you cover it either with a purpose made cover or a tarpaulin. Make sure it’s clean and bone dry before you cover it up and that there is ventilation for air to circulate so that if moisture does get in it can also more easily get out on a dry day. Tilting furniture and keeping the feet off wet ground can help prevent rotting,” he adds.

Making the most of your outdoor areas is not just about tables and chairs. Vale says: “Other items will also contribute to the com- fort and usability of these areas; for example, look at the flooring, shade and shelter you offer. Good flooring – paving, decking or gravel – is a must to ensure that guests and staff can move around comfortably without tripping or slipping. If the outdoor area is ex- posed, you may want to provide either shade from the sun or shelter from wind and rain, depending on the weather. This can be in the form of natural planting – trees and shrubs – or the built environment – walls, screens and pergolas. Outdoor heating and giant parasols can help extend the season for outdoor eating and drinking.”

Outdoor, dining is becoming ever more popular in the UK. Investment in outdoor furniture is an excellent way of generating additional revenue by making the most of all the space at your disposal. The balance between furniture price and quality is all-important though. Inevitably, paying more does buy higher quality, which looks better for longer, but of course the investment is greater and takes longer to pay back. A good supplier should be able to offer sufficient choice of furniture and the expertise to guide you into making the correct investment decision.